An estimated 41% of undergraduates in the United States attend community college, and these open-access institutions represent remarkable diversity in demographics, levels of academic preparation, and educational and career goals. Just under 30% of community college students are first generation, 15% are single parents, 9% are non-U.S. citizens, 5% are veterans, and 20% have documented disabilities (American Association of Community Colleges, 2020) . As gateways for both traditional and post-traditional students and characterized by a unique fluency between campus and the community, these colleges serve as sites of potential academic, career, and personal transformation. Higher education also forms a gateway to socioeconomic mobility, empowering individuals to make the kind of meaningful progress the United States critically needs for its workplaces, and civic and domestic life, and community colleges represent an exciting setting for emerging and next generation workforce and citizenry.
Yet it’s important to recognize that community college students undertake their educational pathways often with more challenges and fewer resources to manage. For example, the Hope Center’s 2020 survey of basic needs in higher education including 247 community colleges reports that 42% of community college students were food insecure in the last month, 50% experienced housing insecurity and 17% experienced homelessness in the previous year (Baker-Smith et al., 2020). In addition to the equity gap, many community college students have also been exposed to traumatic or potentially traumatic experiences: veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, students and families displaced by political and social upheaval, by natural disasters, by domestic and community violence, by addiction, by issues in mental health (Davidson, 2017; Brogden & Gregory, 2019; Metzler et al., 2017; Verschelden, 2017; Read et al., 2011; Shalka, 2015; Edman et al, 2015; Ogul, 2020; Ashford, 2020; Arnekrans et al., 2018; Hinojosa et al. 2018). Further, the community college student body is constituted by those identified as academically vulnerable in postsecondary education—LGBTQ+ individuals, BIPOC/people of color, women, students with uncertain immigration status, first-generation students, veterans, students with disabilities (Davidson 2017). Those same individuals are also at higher risk for trauma including identity-based systemic violence and marginalization (Davidson, 2017; Verschelden, 2017; Gomez, 2019; Edman et al., 2015).
Recognizing this data and its demographics aims neither to pathologize community college students nor embrace a deficit model of pedagogy and student services. Rather, it seeks to challenge or destabilize the notion that somehow most people have little or no violence in their normal lives, and those who do must in some way exist outside the realm of the ordinary. The truth is that while traumatic experiences used to be thought of as uncommon, leading health organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC, 2019) and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA, 2019) now recognize trauma as not only commonplace, but prevalent.